By Cathy Taylor
As a result of recent acts of violence in schools and government facilities, Clare County has taken preliminary steps for the implementation of stricter security measures at the Courthouse Building in Harrison.
Spearheaded by Clare County District Court Judge Joshua Farrell and Clare Undersheriff Dwayne Miedzianowski, the wheels have been set in motion to ensure a safer, more secure environment for employees and visitors of the Clare County Building.
“We are one of the very few courthouses left in the state of Michigan that does not have a common entry/exit point in place for scanning and weapons screening purposes,” commented Judge Farrell. “We have had at least four substantial threats to various courthouse employees and the building itself all within the first 80 days of this year. We’ve had everything from a bomb threat to an actual shooter on the premises, to a mass shooting threat.”
Farrell continued, “Fortunately all of these incidents were advanced threats and were able to be dealt with successfully before damage was done or lives were lost. The potential threats that are of most concern to us are the unknown threats—the one’s we don’t see coming.”
Farrell and Miedzianowski are convinced that the beefed-up security measures are long overdue for the courthouse and the community. They have been meeting with key department heads from the courts and the jail for collaborative input on the situation. At the last Board of Commissioners meeting , both gentlemen revealed their findings to the Board in a comprehensive and thorough presentation.
At the recommendation of the BOC, the new security system will be implemented in three phases, with phase one of the plan to begin immediately. Phase one includes setting up a universal county-wide plan for handling building emergencies and threats, such as bomb, fire, weather and intruder/active shooter.
A security manual will be written that will spell out the individual plans of action to be taken in case of any emergency situation. There will be building lock-down training and drills conducted by the Sheriff’s Department. The courthouse will also develop a plan to utilize its current intercom system as an advance warning alert system inside the building.
Once phase one has been successfully set in motion, phase two of the plan will begin. This will basically involve locking and securing all entrance and exit points in the building. All doors will be kept locked at all times and will be
for the first several months to make sure all procedures remain in place and are followed. There will be disciplinary action for those who fail to comply.
Phase three of the program involves the installation and utilization of body scanning and weapons screening equipment at the south entrance. A pre-cost assessment study will be conducted to find the most economical way to utilize existing security personnel to staff the south entry.
“We already own the metal detector and scanning equipment,” stated Farrell. “All we need to do is set it up and get a plan in place to staff it. From a legal standpoint, the longer this equipment sits unused, the higher the liability will be for us if something should happen.”
Undersheriff Miedzianowski stated, “Having all traffic entering and exiting and screened in one centralized location is huge. This will potentially eliminate the vast majority of all security issues and dangers that could and quite possibly will arise in the future.”
“We are anxious to get the basics in place and functioning,” added Farrell. “Hopefully the entire process can be accomplished in a short period of time once we get started. It may take a couple of months to complete or it could take a couple of years. But we know we need to start somewhere.”
Board Commissioner Jack Kleinhardt expressed concerns that he has encountered from some of his district constituents about locking the doors to the county building. According to Kleinhardt, some of the elderly citizens are concerned about having to stand in line for long periods of time outside of the building. They feel that the inconvenience the locked doors will cause them would be far greater than any safety hazards they may encounter.
Clare County Prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis countered Kleinhardt’s comment, “The vast majority of people who visit this building only do so once or twice a year to either pay taxes or to buy a dog license. This will be such a small inconvenience to these people. But for those of us who are here every day, all day long, the county has a duty to protect us as we do our jobs for the people of the county.”
Ambrozaitis continued, “My first year on the job here, I experienced a threat while I was pregnant. I had a criminal defendant threaten to stab me and my unborn child. The public needs to realize that as employees of the court system we deal with the possibility of threats and danger all the time. We deserve to be safe in our work environment.”
The only foreseeable issue that may eventually surface as a result of the proposed courthouse security plan might be an inadequate parking situation. The parking lot on the building’s south side is relatively small and fills up rapidly on days that special events are scheduled. With all foot traffic entering and exiting in one location, this will only intensify the situation. The Board may possibly find itself faced with the decision of whether or not to secure more property for a parking lot expansion in the future.